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Embrace technology, but don’t forget the power of people

Written by Dr Jason Wouhra O.B.E

Published by E2E 100 in The Independent - 29th May 2024

I am a food and drink wholesaler, supplying thousands of products to thousands of convenience retailers across the West Midlands and, despite the advances of technology over the years, there is no denying wholesaling is a traditional business. From its most humble beginnings, it has centred around people, and this is still the case today.

People buy from people. It’s a simple, fundamental rule of business and yet, so many industries are slowly but surely moving away from this as technology continues to advance at pace. But I have to ask, at what cost? 

 

There is no doubt that technology has been transformative for every type of business. Technology drives innovation, pace and creativity. Where would we be without the ease and speed of emails, online ordering or Sat Nav?

Within the wholesale sector, as we evolve to meet customer demand, technology is proving to be our secret weapon. Social media and digital marketing allow us to shout louder and to more people. Technology allows us to open up the doors, so to speak, break into new markets and channels and find new customers. It affords a different viewpoint and enables us to pivot, adapt and innovate, all of which are critical for success.

Technology also enables us to improve from the inside. From utilising route optimisation software to ensure deliveries are the most efficient and sustainable they can be, to automated systems to improve efficiency and cut down on human error, technology is enabling us all to progress.

A robust warehouse management system will transform a wholesaler’s operations in the blink of an eye, from managing stock levels to picking efficiency. We can improve everything from fuel consumption to energy use and our carbon footprint.

Thinking smarter

Technology also enables our decision making to be smarter, sharper and, essentially, laser-focused.

Being able to extract insights from data is an industry game changer. The vast amount of facts and figures now at our fingertips enable us to identify opportunities and trends, make adjustments, order more, order less and predict patterns based on sales history, shopper behaviour, even the weather. This way, not only can we optimise our offer, but we can reduce waste, improve profitability and align our business to ensure it meets demand.

And, of course, there’s online ordering. Just as we use it in our personal lives, ecommerce remains a huge opportunity for wholesalers, enabling customers to buy what they want, when they want it. For busy retailers, foodservice operatives, chefs, buyers and business owners, being able to place an order wherever and whenever suits them is invaluable – this efficiency cannot, and should not, be underestimated.

Proceed with caution

However… I say, proceed with caution. While the benefits of the ease and speed of technology are incredible, don’t be so quick to move completely away from those rough and ready analogue beginnings. While a smartphone or laptop can do many things, it can’t shake your hand, look you in the eye or forge a genuine connection – and business thrives on these things.

Every day, our depots are a hive of activity as retailers greet their peers, engage with reps, share experiences and gain value from their visit. Customers ask advice from our team of on-hand experts about new products, the latest promotions, ROI, trends and new opportunities for their stores. While some of this information could be found online, the key takeaways would be very different.

The team at Lioncroft Wholesale are not just here to sell products. We’re here to support, to encourage, to advise and to help our customers thrive. Whether this is helping to load vans in the car park, identify opportunities for our customers’ businesses, maximise sales opportunities or to be a friendly face at the depot, we know how essential this is, and we don’t take this lightly.

As humans we are hugely adaptable, we utilise skills and experience we’ve gathered over the years, drawing upon knowledge and insight. We are emotional and we care. We empathise, sympathise and take the time to understand. We draw on context, on history and we think creatively. AI can do many things, but these fall far out of its remit. And these qualities are essential to do business, particularly in such a people-focused industry as ours.

Looking to the future

As banks come under scrutiny for their decisions to close more than 6,000 branches across the UK, this raises the question of what happens next?

We must, of course, embrace technology or we will be left behind. But it shouldn’t, and mustn’t, replace human connection. This is vital for the lifeblood of entrepreneurialism and industry.

While processes can be automated and efficiencies improved, it is the spark between humans where the magic happens.

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